Friday, June 12, 2020

Now Available--Video Recording of Key4biz Executive Webinar Room 451: 'International Organizations and Systemic Crises'. With Fabio Bassan (Roma Tre University), Larry Catà Backer (Penn State University) and Susanna Cafaro (Università of Salento)

I am delighted to announce the posting of the video recording of the Key4biz Executive Webinar Room 451: 'International Organizations and Systemic Crises'. With Fabio Bassan (Roma Tre University), Larry Catà Baker (Penn State University) and Susanna Cafaro (Università of Salento)

The Webinar was built around a contemporary problem proposed by Professor Bassan around which a solution was proposed. We were given the opportunity to respond both.
The problem focused on the capacity of contemporary international organizations (IOs) to effectively respond to crisis. Where the construction of IOs privilege the complexity of managing physiology (the regulatory perimeter) they may reduce the ability of IOs to quickly and effectively react to the pathology of crisis (systemic shocks): the typical tools of collective emergency are not among the endowments of international organizations, not even those, more recent, less rigid in terms of institutions and delegated powers.

The proposed solution builds on a set of organizing premises. These include first, that States consider systemic crises a challenge and an opportunity to be seized, in a ruthless competition not only between companies and markets but also between legal systems and between States, which in the dynamic of international relations now devoted to market power, have the effect of transforming the latter into political supremacy. Second, the fact that the marginal benefit thus acquired by one State entails a significant sacrifice for one or more other States and therefore entails a sub-optimal balance, constitutes a secondary but not irrelevant aspect. Given these premises, solutions ought to be guided by a principle of proportionality, among those that minimize the costs for the States in terms of transfer of sovereignty and reduction of competition between legal systems and between States in dealing with the crisis, but at the same time allow to coordinate the reaction to systemic crises. In this context IOs must be reconstituted to be able to perform coordination functions of national actions in the immediacy of the crisis, in its management, and in overcoming the crisis. In that reconstitution, IOs should be equipped with internal and operational rules suitable for managing and early warning functions and with a coherent power to direct and coordinate the actions of the States that are part of it. This organization should have legitimacy, at the highest level. The decisions would consist in coordinating the actions of national governments. The decisions should consist in identifying ways and forms of coordinated reaction to critical events. These methods could integrate the use of existing economic institutions. And lastly, an institutionalized form of connection and cooperation of this organization with the International Organizations responsible for economic, financial, health, climatic matters could also be envisaged, in order to acquire practices, protocols, information necessary for the adoption of decisions.
The problem and proposed solution made for some exciting interaction.  The video may be accessed HERE.

The notes of my own responses (organized as International Organizations and Systemic Crisis: Sketching a Response to a Problem With Multiple Solutions) follows below.


International Organizations and Systemic Crisis: Sketching a Response to a Problem With Multiple Solutions
Larry Catá Backer

1. The Problem of Systemic or Institutional Incapacity.  In a sense, the problem of IOs in crisis can be reversed.  It is instead the problem of crisis in the face of an IO universe fundamentally incapable of institutionally responding in effective ways.  That incapacity may be understood in five principal parts. 

The first touches on institutional cultures. IOs are at their core administrative organs.  They revolve around their secretariats and reflect the institutional cultures of administrative organs as that has evolved since 1945. That culture is grounded in the application of principals based delegations of policy by a central organ to technically siloed administrators who act through the exercise of discretionary authority.  That authority tends to be risk averse and focused on the protection of the integrity of the administrative organ.  It is also quite protective of its jurisdictional reach, and can be aggressive in seeking to expand its mandate.  The traditional bureaucratic approach--one grows, or one stagnates, or one disappears, applies.   

The second touches on institutional core functions. IOs produce facts for the consumption of other (usually national and civil society) organs.,  They are factories of data.  Some of that data is internally consumed, much of it is meant to feed a narrative that enhances the profile and the relevance of the IO within the IO ecology.  This is mission enhancing and expanding data narrative production that creates a closed loop of administrative functionality designed to ensure the construction of a meaning of the agency and its functions as relevant (and thus worthy of greater funding). 

The third centers on state politics projected into institutions. As autonomous as an IO secretariat may be, its high administrators must navigate a complex politics that reflect the international contests among leading states, and sometimes with the destabilizing interventions of coalitions of regional or developing state groups. The recent politics of the World Health Organization evidence this nicely--with the global contests for authority between the United States and China, and their bilateral conflicts over their relative positions of authority in and on the world, reflected in both the responses of WHO high officials during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic--from the issues of transparency and information disclosure, to the admission of Taiwan into proceedings, and to the ultimate threat of US withdrawal from membership (easier said than done of course). The same has been note din the politics of the Human Rights Council and the organization fo the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The fourth focuses on the IO as the site for the manifestation of unequal state power. Indeed, it is commonly understood that absent concerted intervention from coalitions of states at the margins of power and authority, IOs tend to reflect the priorities, practices, and conflicts among leading states.  There was much unhappiness in certain areas, for example, for WHO's response to MERS; the Ebola interventions remain controversial, and the conflicts over the neutrality and openness of COVID-19 interventions has consumed some elements of the popular press. 

The fifth touches on the preservation as the first principle of IO operation. IOs, as autonomous organs, tend to place self preservation at the forefront of their operations, even as they seek to protect their own space. WHO, for example boasts an organization of 7000 people from 150 states all of whom are invested in the institution and its culture.  Substantial resources, then, are spent on work with 'influencers,' with access to academics, with performance for potential public and private patrons, and the like. Self-preservation is also at the heart of narrative controlling campaigns--narrative is essential for creating a reality in which it is presumed that the IO is not only essential but sits at the center of problem solving respecting critical issues. 

Taken together these bedrock cultural issues define not only the internal limitations of IO responsiveness (IOs must be true to their nature) but also the environment in which IO culture is unlikely to change in any sort of responsive way to new  or unforeseen events. in very specific ways.

2.  The Path Toward Solution in the Shadow of Incapacity.   If one is going to improve IOs, taken as they are, that is to make them more efficiently responsive to crisis, then the solution proposed ought to be taken seriously.  It builds on the capabilities of organizations and the premises under which states are willing to be led by these IOs and builds an effective bureaucratic structure that targets as its principal objective, meeting the challenges of crisis.  And yet one wonders if an approach to the solution of the problem of the IO in crisis may not also  require  a comparative analysis.  I propose, then, to situate the excellent proposal within a universe of culturally contingent approaches that may aid in our consideration, not of the feasibility of the solution, but of  the likelihood of its embrace given the perspectives from which leading states and other actors may approach the problem. To that end I will suggest four possible approaches and my own as a fifth.

The first posits what I call the American solution.  The American solution is based on the premise that IOs are culturally incapable of responding to crisis.  The solution to the problem, then, requires the abandonment  of the current IO system. This is a 'tear the house down to rebuild something better from the ground up' philosophy.  It is deeply culturally contingent in the United States which internally has been undergoing that sort of conversation with its own institutions ans social ordering  in an intense way since 2016. And they are far from finished.  That domestic conversation has spilled over into the US's responses to the international system, holding them to account and finding them fundamentally wanting as they fail to align with national core values.  The rebuilding would be undertaken on the America First model--based on an aggregated bilateralism with a IO serving as a meeting point in times of need or crisis and subject to substantial control and oversight, as well as regional autonomy and inter systemic competition.  

The second is what I call the European solution. This EU solution approach is fundamentally institutional and bureaucratic.  It focuses on core EU values, values that had built a powerful centralizing set of administrative organs while preserving a necessary respect for sovereignty of member states.  The parallelism between EU and IO institutions is unmistakable--and both reflected the almost successful effort to internationalize this model.  Coordination, a focus on management, discretion containment through systems of accountability and rules predominate.  This is the realm of comitology, of shared sovereignty; it is the apotheosis of the multi-stakeholder model bent on creating a shared culture and grounded on principles of mutual aid. The approach finds an excellent expression in the proposed solution we have been asked to consider.  Indeed, that solution represents a subtle and quite effective application of the core principles of the EU approach in the service of the current IO architecture within an increasingly restless global order(s).

The third is what I call the Chinese solution.  The Chinese solution is built around the core premise of international relations as fundamentally ordered by a hub and spoke model. IOs, like the international order, must be anchored in a very small number of key states, each of which serve as a hub of the manifestation of the mission of the IO. From that hub, the spokes of the system extend to all partner states.It was this core sense of the natural order of IO function that might have produced the Chinese proposal to serve as the medical supply hub of the pandemic.In that context, the IO is understood not as a hub (that is reserved to the leading states) but as a coordination space through which international arrangements may  be expressed--always lead and guided by the vanguard (hub) state. This is the model that has already been operationalized through China's Belt and Road Initiative, and reflects BRI's culture and practices.

The fourth is what I call privatized solutions. Privatized solutions can be examined as two distinct types.  
The first is what I might call a markets model.  Here the essence of the privatized solution is to dismantle the current IO architecture and leave its operation to the market.  The IO then would be reconceived as a market space--where transactions are conducted and market forces may be aggregated and manifested.  The IO can be understood as a multilateral mechanism for setting the outer boundaries  of the operation of the market (the protector of the market ideologies of these functionally distinct operational spaces).  The IO may also be vested with authority to create and police the rules of market conduct. Here the allocation of resources and the mechanics of responses with be undertaken through market mechanisms, and the primary movers would be private economic actors (or in Marxist Leninist states, their SOEs).

The second is what I would call an algorithmic model. In this variation, analytics replace the market as the privatized space within which responses to crisis and the allocation of resources connected to that response are organized through the application of data driven analytics--predictive and real time analytics, that then may be combined with consequences rich algorithms that mold effective response. In this model, the IO is transformed almost beyond recognition. Its principal purpose is as a data collector, and the fundamental international obligations of states and private actors would be to provide data (transforming in turn the privacy based constitutional orders of some states). Its principal operational responsibilities would be to oversee the construction and application of analytics, and the development of predictive and responsive analytics through big data management and advance artificial intelligence mechanisms. This approach is likely more feasible than the market model and my sense is that private and state actors have already begun to develop pieces of this approach. 

The fifth and last suggest a composite approach. This approach is also based on the premise that IOs are culturally incapable of effectively responding to crisis.  But it suggests a much more powerful role for IOs in crisis than that suggested by the American approach by borrowing from the EU and Chinese approaches.  Under this composite approach IOs could be reconfigured in one of two ways.  The first is to reduce the role of IOs to capacity building and to equalizing resources among states.It would reconstitute the IO as a learning factory and as the space for the accountability of states respecting their duties under international law and their responsibilities under international norms. IOs would serve as powerfully centralized spaces for resource sharing, multilateral coordination, and accountability.  Here the IO would be assigned tasks for which it is eminently suited--data collection, knowledge dissemination, transparency, and coordination.  Decisions and implementation would be left to states or private actors. The second, and more difficult variation, is to expand the regulatory authority of the IO--also a task for which the IO is well suited. The role of the IO would be to establish broad baseline principles that can be enforced by collective organs.  Its emergency management powers would be supreme but activated only by consensus vote of the IOs membership--the equivalent of a functionally differentiated senatus consultus.

 Taken together, these alternatives suggests the political difficulty of achieving substantial reform.  For each approach to a solution, there are several camps  for which the solution would pose substantial political difficulties, or which would clash with domestic principles for the organization of their political systems. At best, then, one can expect partial, and wholly unsatisfactory, solutions to a problem whose resolution is easy to see and rationalize, but whose politics makes the gap between rationalization and realization impossible to bridge.

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